Near Telchac Puerto, about an hour from Yucatán’s capital, an important project is being conducted to protect native parrots and return them to the wild.
Proyecto Santa Maria involves both the conservation of birds and the preservation of the natural habitats in which they are found.
Mexico has 22 species of parrots, four are found in Yucatán. For 11 years, Pierre Medina and Dra. Vanessa Martínez García have run Proyecto Santa Maria on private land they rent. They collaborate with Mexico’s environment ministry, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, Mérida’s zoos, and many other conservation organizations, including Belize Bird Rescue and UNAM. Medina, the general manager of Proyecto Santa Maria, lived outside Mexico, working with farming organizations before starting the project. Dra. Martínez García is a veterinarian who specializes in hummingbirds.
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Medina says that parrots are in a grave situation both nationally and internationally. They are wanted for their feathers and as pets, especially because they can talk. Although they may have been captive for many years, parrots are intelligent animals that can “return to being parrots” quickly, usually within a couple of months. The parrots take two years to train before they are released into the wild.
Sunny Snow has been a dedicated volunteer at the sanctuary for six months and is the only English speaker there. She was in the US Navy in Hawaii when she first acquired parrots. She has also worked with rabbit rescue in the U.S. and then turned to birds. She brought three with her to Mexico, which took two years to sort out, but her determination paid off.
There are two other staff members: Lupita, who helps run things, and the caretaker, Don Jaime.
Owning native Mexican species is illegal, but some people keep parrots as pets. The Mexican government has strong laws to protect indigenous wildlife. There is a fine and possible jail time. Of the parrots at the sanctuary, some were seized by the government, and some were turned in by those who kept them as pets.
There are more than 100 colorful and boisterous parrots at the sanctuary. All will be released unless they are disabled, and 40 to 50 will be released into their natural environment by next autumn. The project has natural habitat areas near Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam, where they present educational programs about parrot conservation in schools and villages for several years. The first two babies at the sanctuary hatched this past spring.
There are approximately 12 parrots that have suffered physical and mental abuse prior to arriving at the sanctuary. These parrots cannot be released into their natural habitat and must remain permanent residents. A socialization program called Kinder for Loros (Parrots) was created to help these parrots with disabilities adapt to their new lives. They have enrichment toys and activities and are learning to step up, accept syringes, nail trimming, and many other educational challenges. They enjoy music and books and learn preferences via training.
Two such parrots who arrived at the sanctuary about six months ago are Patachon and Patachin. They had been living in a too-small cage together for 12 to 15 years and were given only sunflower seeds to eat. They are still missing many of their feathers but are doing much better now, thanks to the care and attention they receive at the sanctuary.
After many years, Proyecto Santa Maria needs funding. So they have opened up the sanctuary for tours and are planning other fundraising events.
Tours (200 pesos for adults and 100 for children) are limited to two per week to avoid disrupting the parrots’ routine, are available in English or Spanish, and are limited to no more than six people at a time. The tours in English are Thursdays and Sundays. Nuts will be for sale to feed the parrots.
Other fundraising activities will include monthly Lunch with the Parrots. There is a Godparent or Sponsor a Parrot program where for a monthly donation, supporters help one of the parrots with food and medical expenses and contribute to the conservation and social/environmental education of parrot conservation programs.